The Art of Anticipation

If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, you likely know that I have a *slight* affinity for all things Disney. In short, Disney World is my happy place. Thankfully my husband and kids have been quick to don Mickey Ears and join in my excitement.


Luckily for us this summer we were blessed to fit a Disney vacation into our yearly budget and schedule. And trust me, I didn’t take a minute of it for granted, beginning with the planning process. I used the days, weeks, and even months leading up to our trip to build anticipation around what was to come.

Besides giving me another excuse to get on Pinterest… there are also cognitive, social, and emotional benefits for children associated with promoting positive anticipation. It seems that counting down (pun intended) can add up!

Increasing Self-Control

Learning to anticipate a pending reward or special experience (whether from a job well done, an upcoming vacation, or a birthday party) teaches us to delay gratification. Research shows that people who learn to embrace, and even enjoy, the anticipation of a reward (rather than immediately receiving gratification), sustain higher levels of impulse control and personal restraint in multiple areas of their lives. Becoming more self-disciplined not only allows us to improve our productivity and focus on tasks, for example, it can assist us in becoming healthier, more financially responsible, or even more patient in stressful or irritating circumstances.

Fostering Appreciation

From the little to the big, I don’t want my children to take things for granted—including the time we spend together, the things they have, and the places or events they experience. It’s my hope for them that when they enjoy something, they also truly appreciate it in its entirety. So, part of building anticipation, I do for them. But I also do it partly for me. As a mom, I have to make the time and effort to appreciate, enjoy, and savor our time together. Today it’s arranging pasta noodles to look like a Disney princess (pictures below), but tomorrow it’ll be college and beyond. Building positive anticipation around events in our family helps me to more fully recognize that while the big moments come and go, I can appreciate and celebrate the time in between.

Maximizing Rewards

Like many of you, my time and money are limited. This means that if I’m going to invest either, I want a sizable return. But I’m talking about family capital. Adding anticipation-building opportunities has the potential to reinforce educational concepts, promote family engagement, and multiply the length of our family’s experience. (For example, “counting down” to a vacation turns a one-week event into a four-month event. Plus, our memories have increased tenfold!)

Thought for the day: In my family, I work to cultivate an Art of Anticipation around experiences — from big things (like Disney World or the zoo), to smaller things like a trip to a local museum or a holiday. And please don’t think that you have to have tons of money or time to bolster your family’s anticipation of something special. You’d be surprised at what you can do at little or no cost — just effort and creativity!

Practicing What I Preach: Before our summer vacation, I initiated a 100-day countdown to build anticipation around our trip. The graphic below was created for free using The kids thought it was fun to design their characters (and there are tons of combinations!).


Our countdown began in February when, ironically, we were under blizzard-like conditions and were snowed in for nearly two weeks. One morning we spent a few hours making a 100-day countdown chain. Not surprisingly, I snagged this free idea (and the printables that went with it) from Pinterest:

What I liked about this activity was that it helped to reinforce fine motor skills (using scissors) and math concepts (counting, skip counting, grouping, sequencing). Our countdown chain hung proudly on our dining room wall and each day the kids alternated removing a link.


During another snow day, we decided to fill a basket with drawings from our favorite Disney movies. This kicked off a weekly Disney Family Movie Night during the 10-weeks before our vacation. Each week my kids took turns selecting a movie to inspire our theme, and I did my best to capture the essence of each movie through a meal or snack (with full approval from my pint-sized critics, who are also picky eaters!). Some weeks we were able to pair a movie with fun things, like a community theater performance or a movie release. My creations were simple, inexpensive, and used many ingredients I already had in my pantry or fridge. And because my son has a milk allergy, everything was dairy-free or had a safe version for him.




Fox and the Hound


Big Hero Six


Mary Poppins




The Jungle Book


Finding Nemo


Lady and the Tramp




Monsters University


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